You Deserve Nothing – Alexander Maksik

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You Deserve Nothing

Five words from the blurb: Paris, school, morality, students, criminal

I have to admit that the blurb of this book held little appeal. A story about the children of wealthy families attending an international school in Paris didn’t sound that exciting, but as we all know, a talented author can transform the dullest premise into something magical and that is what Maksik has done here.

You Deserve Nothing could be seen as a hybrid of three fantastic books:

  • Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
  • Rupture by Simon Lelic
  • Testimony by Anita Shreve

It uses multiple narrators to question who is to blame when a teacher-pupil relationship occurs and it leaves you feeling sorry for perpetrator of the crime.

It also brings other questions to the table:

  • Should teachers be allowed to encourage children to question their religious beliefs?
  • Should teachers without counselling qualifications be allowed to talk to children about a terrible event they’ve witnessed?
  • What level of friendship/trust is acceptable between a child and a teacher?

On top of these carefully constructed moral dilemmas this well written, tightly plotted book gives an atmospheric portrayal of Paris and what life is like for those living in the insulated bubble of an international school.

The characters are well developed, engaging, but deeply flawed individuals, and the continual switching of viewpoint created a fantastic sense of foreboding.

I used to think, These are my students. I love them. I was often amazed by the closeness I felt, by my desire to protect them, to push them. I wanted to make them proud of me. I wanted never to disappoint them. As much as I loved them in those quiet minutes at the beginning of class, I also wanted them to love me in return.

Literature lovers will enjoy the discussions that take place in the seminars of this international school. Shakespeare, Faulkner and Keats are among the many authors introduced to the students and I ended up longing for an English teacher as passionate.

The ending was perfect and I will be thinking about the issues raised in this book for a very long time.

This is one of my favourite books published in 2011 and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Highly recommended.

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25 Comments

  1. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this review, this sounds really good. I would like to read it immediately.

    1. Jackie says:

      Caroline, Great news! I hope you love it as much as I did.

  2. Audra says:

    oh — this sounds amazing!

    1. Jackie says:

      Audra, I think it is! If you like any of the three books mentioned then I think it is well worth giving it a try :-)

  3. David says:

    I read this one a couple of weeks ago and completely agree with your assessment. It put me in mind a little of “Everything Beautiful Began After” (far and away my favourite novel of 2011) in terms of the setting, the relationships and the quality of the writing, and it is nearly as good. One of those novels that make everything you pick up afterwards seem a little dull in comparison.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, It is great to know I’m not alone in thinking this book amazing. It is interesting that you should mention Van Booy as I had my eye on his book earlier in the year and then forgot all about it – thanks for the reminder!

  4. nomadreader says:

    Oh, this one sounds so good! I initially didn’t make the connection because this cover is completely difference (and better in my opinion) than the U.S. cover. I’ve re-added it to my wishlist!

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, I’ve just had a look at the US cover and agree with you – it is terrible! It looks like a non-fiction book about the Holocaust. So dark. I can see why it is putting people off :-(

  5. This one isn’t a book that would’ve appealed to me in blurb only. But it does sound nicely executed, and it brings up some important questions. Looks great!

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, Another example of why we shouldn’t read blurbs! I hope you decide to read it.

  6. Jenners says:

    Ooohhh…sounds provocative in a wonderful way. I’ll have to look for it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I really hope that you find a copy and enjoy it as much as I did. :-)

  7. Teresa says:

    Believe it or not, I *just* started reading this today. I’m not far enough into it to have much of an opinion, beyond so far, so good.

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, I look forward to seeing what you think of it. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  8. Kathleen says:

    This one sounds good and I have a good friend who attended an International high school in Switzerland. She’s told me some crazy stories but none like this!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, The best thing about this book is that it doesn’t come across as crazy – it is so well written that it comes across as very realistic.

  9. I loved Testimony and think I’d really like this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention – it goes very near the top of my TBR list!

    1. Jackie says:

      Debbie, If you loved Testimony then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this. So few books manage to do multiple narrators well.

  10. This sounds great!! I absolutely loved Notes on a Scandal, I have Testimony at home to read (recommended to me) and while I didn’t love Rupture I did really like the theme and questions asked.

    This sounds like one I’m going to have to look up right now….

  11. Ooh, I’ve just thought of something else – my favourite fim is Dead Poets Society (I know, I get laughed at for that but I loved it) and that is about an inspirational teacher who makes the pupils think for themselves. Another reason I think I’d like this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, It has been a very long time since I watched The Dead Poets Society. I’m sure I enjoyed it, but I can’t remember much about it now. I think your problems with Rupture stemmed from the structure and writing style, so I think you’ll love this book as the writing is much more normal :-)

  12. JoV says:

    Ironically I have Testimony and Notes on Scandal on my shelf and if I read these two, then I should read “You deserve nothing” to get a feel of the effect of the combination! Thanks for recommending this to me, Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I think Notes on a Scandal is the slightly better book of the trio, but there isn’t much in it. I don’t suggest you read them close together, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy all of the books if you read them at some point (although I suggest that you get the audio version of Testimony as I think the writing style works better in that format.

  13. Poppy says:

    You might be interested to know this novel turns out to be a thinly veiled account of the author’s own experiences. He was dismissed from the American School of Paris for impregnating his 17 year old student, who isn’t quite so sanguine about the relationship as he appears to think she is.

    http://jezebel.com/5863188/how-a-teachers-alleged-student-affair-became-his-acclaimed-novel

    1. Jackie says:

      Poppy, Thanks for pointing that out. Someone else shared that link with me a few days ago. That does change the way I look at the book, but one of the reasons I read is to try and understand the way other people see the world. I don’t condone his actions, but that does explain why the book felt so realistic.

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